Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Traveller and D&D

Just a quick note of something I may return to later: the underlying ethos of Traveller is almost the twin of that of OD&D.

Both games assume the characters are ne'er-do-wells on the make. The classic format of a Traveller adventure involves the characters undertaking illicit activities in order to make large sums of cash, this way of life being made possible because they're outsiders -- travellers -- unconnected to the local planetary social structure. The larger social context of the game is a lawless (or nearly so) frontier where legitimate authority is distant, corrupt, or both. In short, it's another example of Western tropes being applied to a different genre, just like D&D.


  1. Another connection to Westerns was the ex-military feel... the core of a lot of the Western story is the story of Civil War veterans.

  2. Watching "Firefly" often feels like watching someone's Traveller campaign.

  3. Ethically challenged merchants is the term used on the TML (Traveller mailing List) for this observation.

    Just don't ask about Female Aslans in comfortable shoes, Near-C rocks, or the viability of Piracy.

  4. The Western analogy is great! It's sort of a shame that actual Wild West RPGs have(in my experience)extremely limited appeal these days. Kenzer & Co. did a heck of a job with Aces & Eights, although I've got conflicting feelings about the alternate-historical background tipped in.

  5. Aces & Eights is a heck of a fine game. Like you, I think the alternate history part of it is iffy too. Considering how wacky the straight up history of the West was, I just don't see the necessity for it.

  6. When I first saw Firefly I said: "That's Traveller!"

  7. One of the key elements in many Traveller games is the fact that one character may well have a ship and be liable for the remaining payments. How many RPGs start you off with a mortgage? Being faced with a driving need to get cash or else lose your transportation, rather than the often very vague "we're adventuring because we're adventurers" motivation of so many games, was a revelation to me and a very exciting connection between the PCs and "real world" presented in the game.

    The Joss Whedon connection between Traveller and Firefly may be the subject of some debate, but it's long amused me that Traveller's Lunion Subsector has planets called Persephone and Gorram. Coincidence? Quite possibly, but Firefly does look a lot like Trav to me.

  8. Or could it be that American Science Fiction is so deeply rooted in the Western and the Frontier, as is most American RPGs that the analog works.

    When I played Traveller in the Czech Republic in the mid 1990s we used different Science Fiction tropes than the Western. Our games were more grounded in Soviet explorations of Science Fiction and an indigeous multilateral approach.

    Whereby, problems are discussed not shot at. The questions of life, the universe, and everything could be found in an Aldiss novel rather than "Beam Me Down, Scotty."

    It is interesting that as RPGing and gaming is moving ever into European markets how it is changing narratives just as East Asian cultures are giving us more videogame analogs. Both are impacting and quietly changing the traditional heartlands of gaming - North America.

  9. Re Traveller controversies: the one that consumed our group back in the day was the application of the Kzinti Maxim (the efficiency of reaction drive is directly proportional to its usefulness as a weapon) as the universal problem solver. I always suspected that the (re)definition of maneuver drive as reactionless in later editions was an answer to that particular issue ;)

  10. Rafial: Right from Book 2, it was obvious that maneuver drives were not rockets of any sort!

  11. Unfortunately which meant you just had to leave them on the asteroid when it destroyed the planet.*

    *Because one interpretation was that if you shut off the manuevuer drive you lose all velocity.**

    **Which raise the question of what happens when you land and shut them off.***

  12. James: I've tried repeatedly to download the TS Design Diaries, but never get the full file. With only Computer-0, I have no idea why.

    Rob: The drives are specified as adding acceleration vectors; you can't "stop on a dime" just by using no thrust!

  13. Dwayanu: oh, good on you noticing that. I guess Frank Chadwick and boys just totally missed that when they were drawing all those deck plans with obvious thrust nozzles in Traders & Gunboats, and all those picture of ships with jets of fire streaming out the back in Fighting Ships. Totally took us in!

  14. Are those "jets of fire" reaction mass accounting for the ships' acceleration? It was obviously not so to one with an elementary grasp of rocketry. They might indeed be dangerous, just as it might be dangerous to spend too much time right behind the exhaust pipe of a gasoline-burning automobile. However, the exhaust is not what drives a car!

  15. Then there's the fact that a rocket with just 1 G of acceleration (albeit capable of that for a mind-boggling duration), launched from a 1 G planetary surface, is quickly going ... nowhere! At the very least, you've got some gravity nullification or the like going on. Note that maneuver drives are listed a TL after the air/raft.

    I reckon it's fair to observe that having gone so far, it would be easy enough to invoke a scheme reducing the inertia of a spacecraft and thereby the amount of mass-energy needed for rocket propulsion. Such technology was not mentioned in Traveller, much less the ramifications, but it could be so in Your Traveller Universe!

    Going that route, is the jet from (say) a scout/courier of the same magnitude as the torch Angel's Pencil is riding in Niven's "The Warriors"? I'd say probably not.

  16. IIRC, FGU's Space Opera game had inertialess starships (which could indeed stop on a dime), courtesy of E.E. Smith's Lensman series. And "Doc" Smith would consider a relativistic asteroid a mere warming-up exercise!

    Enough (from me, anyhow) of the "hard SF" stuff that gets in the way of groovy rocketships that go "whoosh" as they engage in WW2-style dogfights, piloted by daring men packing laser pistols!

  17. if you shut off the manuevuer drive you lose all velocity.
    Not sure what this might mean, but I suspect Dwayanu's already neatly elided the issue, and anyway invoked Space Opera, which inspired me much more on read-through, but which I hardly ever played (due to some combination of multi-hour chargen and very deadly combat, I think).

    I was always puzzled, given its sources, that LBB Traveller never bothered with inertialess drives or powered armour, or (IIRC) AIs, even in supplements. The lack of laser swords, I accept, was probably a deliberate stylistic choice.

  18. I've tried repeatedly to download the TS Design Diaries, but never get the full file. With only Computer-0, I have no idea why.

    Me either!

    Send an email to info@rogue-games.net requesting a copy and my business partner will send you the PDF.

  19. I was always puzzled, given its sources, that LBB Traveller never bothered with inertialess drives or powered armour, or (IIRC) AIs, even in supplements.

    There are no inertia-less drives, because Traveller strove to be vaguely scientifically plausible and such a drive very obviously violates physical principles. There is powered armor of a sort in the form of Battle Dress, but it's not quite the Heinleinian tech pr0n many expected. AI is possible at tech levels above the Imperial norm and Marc Miller quite rightly believed that its introduction radically changes a society, so he avoided making it widespread in order to keep the game's implied social structure recognizable.

  20. Traveller strove to be vaguely scientifically plausible

    :o) (FTL, antigrav...)

    I'd totally forgotten about battle dress! My preferred RPG source for powered armour remains Space Opera's PAPA.

    Marc Miller quite rightly believed that [AI's] introduction radically changes a society
    Absolutely: I don't think Gibson understood just how, either, and Neuromancer came out 6 years later. We have no idea today, in fact. I'm still not sure why he excluded it, though...

  21. :o) (FTL, antigrav...)

    It's still a space opera game, so they could hardly have excluded FTL. Personally, I think the lack of antigrav would have been cool, but then you miss out on grav tanks and that'd be a terrible shame.

  22. "... packing laser pistols and smoking cigarettes!"

    Gotta have some kind of superliminal transportation unless you want an emphasis on the Time Abyss, and gravitics is just plain cool; pay no attention to the Conservation Laws behind the curtain!

  23. Dropping Benzedrine is almost as quaint as knowing what a sliderule [i]is[/i], much less how to use it.

    Believe it or not, life was not so much different back in '77!

  24. Again, Traveller always has rule for every exception...at some point in the rules, it did say that the Solomani/Terrans were slow adopt gravatics...

    Therefore, it is perfectly conceivable in the Interstellar Wars Era to have tons of scenarios of Apocalypse Now & Iraq Today on hundreds of worlds...replete with helicopter gunships scouring across alien landscapes.

  25. Very Kewl concept Lucy, I like the idea that the brush wars of the 20th/21st century could be played on a much larger Interstellar plane. Reminds me of the original Aliens RPG and parts of Starship Troopers...just slug throwers instead of fusion guns.

    I had always felt that Interstellar Wars was the last will and testament of SJG to Classic Traveller (especially to Striker 1's rules). Otherwise, Jon's Alderbran would have been published by now. Just wondering why after GURPS Space they did not try to support it more with cross-references between 4e Space & Generic Hardened Space Opera writers.

    James, were you ever approached to write some fluff for Mongoose Traveller or GT other than that Planetary Survey booklet? And, what happened? Thousand Suns, I guess, a pity as I loved your Traveller stuff.

  26. James, were you ever approached to write some fluff for Mongoose Traveller or GT other than that Planetary Survey booklet?

    I never much liked GURPS and, frankly, hated having to write for SJG. They're a very good company in many ways -- always pay on time -- but I find writing for GURPS very uncongenial and so never tried to write for it beyond a bunch of articles for the online JTAS.

    As for Mongoose, Gareth Hanrahan, the Traveller writer, consulted with me a bit; I've got my name listed on the credits page, which is a pleasant surprise. I don't think they much use outside writers and, truth be told, they seem to have the line pretty well in hand on their own.


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